The Power of Poetry: Revenge of the NerdsBack in the day when I was still a fledgling emcee with the acronym FIRST-MC, I wanted to be KRS-ONE so much. I loved his music and his proclamations that he was a Teacher and a Poet with the skills of an Emcee. He called his music “edutainment”. He was teaching history and sociology over sparse beats. He was getting us to learn through the medium. He was the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down, to paraphrase a very different musical influence. But I dug what he was trying to do and it stayed with me when I traded in my hip-hop voice for a poetic one.
My first poems were still very close to the topics I was rapping about in my early days; very conscious, very didactic, with a dash of humor to make it less rant-y. Then I watched “The Iron Giant” for the 119th time and wrote my first nerdy poem about going on a giant robot chaperoned date. No matter how many saccharine love joints I’d read on the mic before that, this was truly my first moment where my nerd heart was on my mylar sleeve. Then came wrestling poems and superhero poems and then themed chapbooks (all titled “Nerdplay”). At my open mic, we started doing a fledgling version of the slam-based Extreme Championship Poetry. And the one thing I would hear over and over is “I didn’t know I like poetry until I saw what you do”. Spoonful of sugar.
Being a poet in Los Angeles in the early days of Def Poetry Jam afforded me some weird opportunities to perform my nerdy poems. I got to read a deejay poem at a Z-Trip show. I performed my ode to Mick Foley to a hotel room full of professional wrestlers. Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle gave me a hug and said, “I don’t like poetry, but I loved your poem”. Nerd win! Secret poet win!
Jump forward to me deciding to assemble an anthology of zombie themed poems (“The Walking Dead” was just starting its television reign, and zombies were in the zeitgeist, as well as my own personal obsession) and being overwhelmed with the range of poems that were culled for what eventually became Aim For The Head. Poets went funny, sure, but they also got poignant. They subverted the assignment in ways that made for a great group of poems. Not that I was shocked completely; the intersection of Poet and Nerd is a crowded street corner. The second coolest thing about that collection is that it got in the hands of a lot of people who normally didn’t read poetry. Same with the superhero anthology MultiVerse that Ryk McIntyre and I co-edited. People were reading poems because they were about The Flash or George Romero! Nerd win! Poet win! We got ‘em again!
And now I run a journal, FreezeRay, wherein the sole focus is that of pop culture themed poems, and a print version, FreezeRay Press. It’s a lot of fun to see what my talented peers bring to the table from all levels of the nerd spectrum, but it’s more rewarding to know that I get to be part of a vehicle that showcases great poetry, just as personal and political, but with a pop culture twist. Because sometimes we have to reel readers in with the promise of revelations about Arrow or The Babadook or Lana Del Rey, but what they leave with is a broader understanding of why this is the only format that we can unapologetically express our admiration, our cross-examinations, our pointing out the problematic parts of the things we love. Come for the nerd, stay for the poetry. Spoonful of sugar. Nerd win. Poet win.
A few recommended pop culture influenced poetry books that don’t reek of self-promotion:
–Missing You, Metropolis – Gary Jackson
–The Dead Wrestler Elegies – W. Todd Kaneko
–Bad Girls, Honey: Poems About Lana Del Rey – Megan Falley
ROB STURMA is the editor-in-chief of the pop culture poetry journal FreezeRay and its print offshoot FreezeRay Press. He curated and edited Aim For The Head, a zombie-themed poetry anthology and MultiVerse (superhero poems!) for Write Bloody Publishing, and is also the creator and curator of the poetry-meets-wrestling show Extreme Championship Poetry (last seen at the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam). His work can be seen online currently at Drunk In A Midnight Choir, The Harpoon Review, Borderline, Ghost House Review, and on XBox Live. He lives in Oklahoma City, OK, where he co-hosts the Red Dirt Wayward Poets open mic and treats every meal like he’s the Chopped Champion.